Board Games: An Effective Tool to Enhance Math Proficiency in Young Kids

by Santiago Fernandez
Board games and math skills

Mathematical skills in young children are significantly improved through number-based board games, as shown by a thorough analysis of 23 years’ worth of research data. This study discovered that board games, when played consistently, can enhance the mathematical abilities of children aged between three and nine, including counting, addition, and number comparison. The study’s authors are urging for a greater incorporation of board games in early education and a scientific evaluation of their effectiveness.

The exhaustive review of 23 years’ worth of studies reveals that mathematical skills of young children get a substantial boost through number-based board games.

These board games, including popular ones like Monopoly, Othello, and Chutes and Ladders, contribute significantly to math proficiency in children, as per an in-depth review of research conducted over the past 23 years.

Board games have already been recognized as powerful tools for enhancing learning and development, including reading and literacy skills.

The recent study, published in the reputable Early Years journal, illustrates that number-centric board games can significantly improve math-related skills like counting, addition, and the ability to differentiate between higher and lower numbers in children aged three to nine.

The researchers recommend that children could greatly benefit from programs where they engage in board games several times a week under the guidance of a teacher or another trained adult.

Dr. Jaime Balladares, lead author of the study from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, asserts, “Board games offer a beneficial effect on mathematical abilities for young children,” suggesting that board games should be viewed as a promising strategy for improving basic and complex mathematical skills.

“Board games can be easily tailored to include learning objectives related to mathematical skills or other domains.”

Different from games that involve specific skills or gambling, board games have players take turns moving pieces around a board. The rules of board games are fixed, limiting a player’s activities, and the moves on the board typically determine the overall game situation.

Unfortunately, the utilization of board games in preschools is not common. The study aimed to aggregate existing evidence regarding their impact on children.

The researchers aimed to evaluate the extent of the effects of physical board games on learning in young children.

Their findings were based on a review of 19 studies published since 2000 involving children aged three to nine. All but one study focused on the relationship between board games and mathematical skills.

All participating children engaged in special board game sessions, averaging twice a week for 20 minutes over a month and a half. Adults, including teachers, therapists, or parents, led these sessions.

In some studies, children were divided into either the number-based board game group or a group that played board games not emphasizing numerical skills. In other studies, all children participated in number-based board games but were assigned different games, such as Dominoes.

All participating children were evaluated on their math performance before and after these intervention sessions, which were structured to encourage skills like counting out loud.

The researchers measured success across four categories, including basic numerical competency, basic number comprehension, deeper number comprehension (the ability to add and subtract accurately), and interest in mathematics.

In certain instances, parents attended a training session to learn arithmetic strategies that they could then incorporate into the games.

The findings revealed that children’s math skills substantially improved following these sessions in more than half (52%) of the tasks examined.

In almost a third (32%) of instances, children in the intervention groups performed better than those who did not participate in the board game intervention.

However, from the reviewed studies, while language or literacy-based board games were employed, there was no scientific evaluation (i.e., comparing control and intervention groups or pre and post-intervention assessments) of their impact on children.

Dr. Balladares, formerly of University College London (UCL), advocates for the urgent development and implementation of board games accompanied by scientific methods to assess their efficacy in the upcoming years.

This is the next project that the research team is exploring.

In concluding, Dr. Balladares states, “Future studies should aim to investigate the potential impact of these games on other cognitive and developmental skills. In the coming years, there should be a concerted effort to develop and assess board games, considering the complexity of games and the need for more sophisticated games for educational purposes.”

Reference: “The effects of board games on math skills in children attending prekindergarten and kindergarten: A systematic review” by Jaime Balladares, Martín Miranda and Karen Cordova, 6 July 2023, Early Years. DOI: 10.1080/09575146.2023.2218598

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Board games and math skills

How do board games affect math skills in young children?

According to a comprehensive review of research, number-based board games can significantly improve mathematical skills such as counting, addition, and number comparison in young children aged between three and nine.

What types of board games are beneficial for children’s mathematical skills?

Board games that are number-based, such as Monopoly, Othello, and Chutes and Ladders, are beneficial for improving children’s mathematical skills, according to the study.

How often should children play board games to improve their mathematical skills?

Children benefit from playing board games a few times a week under the supervision of a trained adult, such as a teacher, therapist, or parent, according to the study.

What is the role of parents in these board game sessions?

In certain studies, parents were trained in specific arithmetic strategies that they could then incorporate into the games, demonstrating the active role parents can play in these sessions.

Why is there a need for scientific evaluation of board games in education?

While board games are known to improve math and other skills, there is a lack of scientific evaluation, such as comparing results before and after interventions. Such evaluations are essential to validate their effectiveness in educational contexts.

What is the future direction of research on board games and education?

Future research should aim to investigate the potential impact of board games on other cognitive and developmental skills. There is also a need to design more sophisticated games for educational purposes.

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Lucas Edwards July 12, 2023 - 3:39 am

What about video games? I think they also improve skills, just not sure about math tho. Anyway, good read.

Steve Kowalski July 12, 2023 - 4:01 am

Wow, maybe if i’d played more board games as a kid, i wouldn’t be struggling with numbers as much now! haha!

Jane McDonald July 12, 2023 - 5:14 am

I feel like schools should really incorporate more of this stuff, not just piles of homework. Learning can be fun, right?

Tricia Brown July 12, 2023 - 10:46 am

I’ve seen this in action, my son is great at math, and he loves board games too. A+ parenting tip right here lol!

Amy Thomson July 12, 2023 - 4:07 pm

Super interesting! who knew board games could be so beneficial for math skills? My kids are gonna be playing a lot more monopoly from now on!


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